BRANDON — Sunny skies prevailed for the Greater Brandon Fourth of July Parade, which each year showcases the town’s businesses, charities, politicians, schools, talent and creativity.
Interest in this year’s parade was so great that hopeful participants had to be turned away, said parade chair Marie Cain, with the Community Roundtable. And yet the parade, held in tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Brandon School — the precursor of today’s Brandon High — marched on well past noon.
In all, about 101 units, including some 35 floats and at least 20 politicians, were on view in this year’s parade.
“We’ve been in this parade for years because it’s the Fourth of July and we’re celebrating this wonderful country,” said Rock Marasco, with Truly Nolen and its seven-vehicle unit. “We always have a good time and everybody is so friendly.”
The parade kicked off at 10 a.m., at the corner of Lumsden Road and Parsons Avenue.
But the participants started to line up hours earlier.
In formation with the Brandon Elks Lodge on Lumsden Road was Jim Randall, the son of the late James D. Randall Jr., who is the namesake of the middle school on FishHawk Boulevard in Lithia. The lifelong educator was Brandon High’s principal from 1964 to 1968.
“My dad was heavily involved in the community and he would have been proud of this parade,” Randall said, noting that his father was a founding member of the Brandon Elks, a member of the Brandon Lions Club and in the race one year for honorary mayor of Brandon.
“My father loved Brandon,” Randall said, surrounded by fellow Elks wearing Brandon school colors — maroon and white — as well as the school’s mascot, an eagle. “The strength of the community is that it pulls together in a time of need. The parade showcases that strength and support of the Brandon community.”
As is the tradition, the parade kicks off with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, its color guard and mounted posse leading the way. Standing at the ready was LaWayne Wyatt, who has been Brandon’s parade marshal for about 30 years.
“Time to grab my water and my phone and get going,” he was heard to say, minutes before this year’s parade kicked off.
Ready, too, was Russ Cozart, who this year received the Greater Brandon Community Leadership Award from the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce, in recognition of his decades-long tenure as head coach of Brandon High’s world-renowned wrestling team.
Brandon High wrestlers have accumulated 24 state championships — including the current streak of 14 consecutive titles.
“This is awesome,” Cozart said, handing out maroon beads to parade attendees, with championship wrestlers, past and present, looking down from the Community Roundtable float. “America, Fourth of July and wrestling,” Cozart said. “I mean, come on, how can you beat that?”
Renee Nelson rode in the parade with the Brandon Broncos Youth Football unit. The Broncos have been in existence for 46 years. Nelson moved to Brandon two years ago, from Long Island, N.Y., where she often watched parades.
“You know, I would say (the Brandon parade) is pretty comparable, except there’s a little more of that small-town feel here,” she said. “Maybe even a little homier?”
Run that by Hazel Henderson, this year’s grand marshal, and you might just get a wide smile and a wink of her eye. Henderson accepted the Community Roundtable’s offer to ride in the parade as its grand marshal, in recognition of the belief that she possibly could be the oldest living Brandon High graduate.
Henderson is 98 and attended her high school grades at the Brandon School, back when it enrolled students in grades 1-12, on the site where McLane Middle School stands today.
“The parade is wonderful,” Henderson said, as the event drew to a close and she headed for home. “It’s always been.”